Posted on June 27, 2016
This article covers the progress into the reconstruction of livelihood for victims who have received significant damage to their local infrastructure 5 years after the unprecedented large-scale earthquake that struck Japan’s Tohoku region. In addition to food, clothing and shelter required for a minimum standard of living, this article looks into the various constituents of an individual’s livelihood—community, one’s motivation for work and life, seeking economic independence as well as social cohesion and congregation.
This feature article was a part of JCN Report Vol.4, originally published in Japanese in September 2015 by Japan Civil Network of Disaster Relief in Japan to spread the understanding the state of Tohoku today to support recovery efforts throughout country.
The disaster, that brought extensive damage to local infrastructure, such as residential areas and industry, requires a variety of initiatives including the introduction of material and human resources, the consensus of residents and industrial recovery. As a result the overall reconstruction plan has been delayed significantly more than initially planned. According to the Reconstruction Agency’s housing reconstruction progress table (released in March 2015), the rate of progress of public housing in 2014 was a very low, 26% in Iwate prefecture, and 33% in Miyagi prefecture, with some having to continue their lives in temporary housing for another 3 years. In many of these regions, resident services such as transport, education and welfare also continue to be impeded.
In the fifth year following the earthquake, regional disparity in reconstruction progress and methods are arising due to various factors such as the disaster scale, land environments, strength and activity of local governments and nonprofits, and the status of resident agreements. At the same time, though there are regions making progress in construction of disaster public housing and relocation to higher ground, many people are left behind in temporary housing for reasons such as economic limitations. Thus, even among the disaster victims there is growing disparity in the circumstances around rebuilding their lives. It is necessary for public administrations and private organizations to cooperate and accurately grasp the situation surrounding people who are faced with such difficulties—such as the absence of a financial base or family and relatives to rely on, their employment and health situation—and continue to provide support.
As the reconstruction progresses and places of residence including temporary housing, disaster public housing, and homes are dispersed, locations designated to receive support are also dispersed, creating areas to which assistance is hard to reach. Due to various reasons such as depleted funds and transfers of human resources, quite a number of support organizations including public administrations, welfare councils and NPOs that have hitherto provided assistance to communities and individuals have also undergone strategic changes which have curtailed their ability to grasp an overarching view of the situation surrounding the livelihoods of disaster victims and effectively provide support.
In addition to the revitalization of community organizational activities such as community associations of disaster public housing and municipalities, strengthened cooperation and information sharing among organizations is vital in order to extend support to people who are isolated from these kinds of resident networks.
For the elderly who had lived in houses in fishing towns and mountainous areas, life in the disaster recovery public housing has a lot of unfamiliarities. From basic things such as not knowing how to use the intercoms and water heaters, or how to release auto-locking doors, to problems with interaction among residents, it is important to provide care for both the physical and mental stress faced by these elderly.
In this article, reconstruction of livelihood is defined as “where people who have received significant damage to their local infrastructure such as from natural disasters, once again rebuild that infrastructure (“local infrastructure” refers, in addition to the food, clothing and shelter required for a minimum standard of living, communities that support each other and the livelihoods of individuals, with places for gatherings and working towards a life worth living and economic self-reliance) .
Based on this definition, we introduce the current situation, challenges and solutions on this subject.
In this special issue, we focus on the following four aspects.
1: People left behind in temporary housing
As residents continue to vacate the temporary housing, there is a breakdown of the functional community and social cohesion where residents look out for one another. Temporary housing has in many cases been built in public areas such as school grounds and parks, and taking into considerations cost reductions and concerns about security and the resumption of community centers, consolidation efforts are expected to go into full-swing. In particular, from now, for those who will still remain in temporary housing, it is believed many will be unable to relocate to rent assisted disaster public housing due to economic, physical or mental reasons, or for reasons of tax delinquency or lack of a guarantor. A large number of “difficult cases” is expected to appear in which it will be difficult for these people to receive support.
2: Aging population amongst residents in disaster public housing
The age distribution of residents in the disaster public housing is highly skewed with the percentage of elderly people in the three prefectures averaging roughly 37%. As such, it is necessary from now to seriously consider aging countermeasures. Among the newly-born communities and human relationships in public housing, it is important to sieve out initiatives that support social cohesion and learning points from the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake in order to create a housing environment that welcomes younger generations to reside in as well. At the same time, it is also important to promote interactions between people from different regions by creating a structure that does not isolate the public housing itself.
3: Self-powered Reconstruction
There are many “at home victims” who remain outside of the target group of insurance systems and endeavor to recover from the disaster on their own without entering temporary housing or disaster public housing. In addition, there are also people who leave the temporary housing and newly construct or purchase homes. These disaster residents are often identified as “privileged people” or “people who manage to get along by themselves.” However, as a result, places of residence are dispersed and sometimes isolated, creating cases where people do not receive public or private sector information and support even if they are having difficulties. In the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake many households who recovered on their own were faced with double or multiple loans. Some had to give up their residences due to repayment difficulties and ended up receiving welfare assistance. In response to this predictable situation, it is necessary for local governments, welfare councils, and NPOs to take measures to launch early support in the region, connecting networks with experts such as lawyers and public notaries, while building relationships with residents.
4: People living next to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
Among the residents of areas designated as evacuation areas due to radiation, there are some who have decided to return, others who have no plan to return for the time being, as well as other people who cannot decide which way to go. The people who returned to the evacuated areas require public administrative services and hospitals, child-care and education facilities, and places of employment, while people who have evacuated outside the region require services in order to live in their place of refuge, as well as information required to consider a return home. It is expected that the evacuation order will be lifted in many areas by March 2017. Those who either decide not return or are unable to return will be considered “voluntary evacuees,” and government compensation will be discontinued. Consequently, it is expected that a lot of needy people will emerge.
In this report, in order to prevent anyone from being left out from the recovery efforts, we explore what is required now, and what support and cooperation methods are being considered from a medium-to-long-term point of view.
With the advancing construction and relocation to higher ground of the reconstruction public housing, the time has come for people to move from temporary housing to a new environment. On the other hand, there are people who, without prospects for a better life due to reason such as economic circumstances, may be left behind in temporary housing. With other residents relocated, these people may be placed in situations in which it is difficult to get a helping hand, so what can be done so that they don’t fall into hardships? (by Kei Nakano)
Utilizing a meeting space in the temporary housing in Rikuzentakata, liaison meetings are held with the participation of many residents. (Photo courtesy of Rikuzentakata Reconstruction Assistance Liaison Committee)
As a general rule, people who lost their homes in the disaster will receive residences and rental compensation from the national government to live in “temporary housing” for two years. In addition to prefabricated-type housing provided by the country, there are also privately owned apartments and condominiums that the public administration leased as “minashi kasetsu” (or quasi-temporary housing). However, since the reconstruction is taking time, it is not uncommon for people to be living in temporary housing even now, four years after the earthquake. These people can be largely divided into “people en route to recovery” and “people with no prospects of recovery (unknown).”
[People with prospects to rebuild]
[People with no prospect to rebuild]
For people who are unable to leave temporary housing in this way for physical, economic or psychological reasons, there are many cases that require our attention. With the number of people leaving temporary housing amidst the progress in reconstruction efforts, efforts have emerged to consolidate the remaining scattered temporary housing residents into particular houses. In the temporary housing it is expected that people having difficulty will hereafter be congregated more and more. In the temporary housing of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, the percentage of alcohol dependence and unemployment was particularly high amongst solitary men, and it is also said that 70% of the 253 “lonely deaths” (people who live alone and die unnoticed) were male. It is necessary to consider countermeasures so that the same kind of situation does not occur in areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Cases have been seen where talk of other residents in the same temporary housing complex leaving and rebuilding make residents feel impatience and anxiety, leading to social withdrawal and depression. Also reduced opportunities for residents to meet with each other people can bring a sense of isolation and frustration which may cause people to suffer from disuse syndrome or the like, and make it easier to fall into an unstable state both physically and mentally.
It is necessary to make enquiries to determine the bottlenecks of housing reconstruction and set out countermeasures. This includes care for people who are finding it difficult to step out of the trauma and grief from the disaster.
For elderly people living alone who were originally living in their own houses and living off pensions, it would be difficult financially to leave the temporary housing (and transfer into disaster public housing, etc.) and have to pay rent. In addition, with problems such as double loans and the cost of treatment for illnesses suffered in the wake of the earthquake, people who face economic hardships as a result of experiencing difficulty working for reasons such as mental illnesses suffered before the earthquake are likely to become apparent in the future.
Among the families that began life apart together in the wake of the earthquake, there has been mental strain, and cases in which relationships have deteriorated leading to divorce.
Places are needed for relief workers to interact and learn from each other so that they can respond appropriately to complex situations and not try to take too much weight upon themselves.
Isolation can easily arise in the closed off environment of the disaster recovery public housing, and various physical and mental issues are expected to manifest in the future. In addition, 36% of residents of the public housing of the Great East Japan Earthquake are 65 or older, and the number of elderly living alone has reached as high as one-fifth of all households. Here, we consider the supports to enable the residents to live with a peace of mind. (by Keiichi Miura)
Nango Housing, the first disaster recovery public housing in Kesennuma city, is expected to house 165 households.
From the emergency temporary housing to disaster recovery public housing, there has been a shift in the place of people’s lives. Construction work on disaster recovery public housing is expected to be roughly 60% completed in Iwate Prefecture and 70% in Miyagi Prefecture by 2015.
The disaster public housing is highly secure and soundproof because of concrete walls, iron doors, etc., and compared with the temporary housing, they are comfortable structures where residents’ privacy is protected. On the other hand, as long as residents are not required to open their doors and interact with the outside, exchanges and ties with neighbors tend to be sparse, and there are concerns that isolation and withdrawal can easily occur. Therefore, in the disaster public housing it is necessary to create an environment conducive for interaction, with regular watch over residents, interaction between residents, and relief workers accompanying local residents to prevent isolation.
For example, in some of the regions, residents’ associations hold exchange meetings, inviting prospective residents, so that residents can live and improve the community with peace of mind. In addition, in communities without self-governing organizations, social welfare councils, NGOs and NPOs cooperate to organize social get-togethers, events and meetings prior to moving in.
Another important point is the aging of residents demographic. As time passes following the earthquake, young residents tend to move to living environments that are suitable to their circumstances, such as for work or schooling. Thus it is expected that the aging rate of people living in disaster recovery public housing will increase. In the case of disaster recovery public housing of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, it was revealed in November last year that the proportion of elderly has exceeded 50% about 20 years after the earthquake. According to the data announced in March this year by Kyodo News, elderly residents over 65 account for 27% of the residents in disaster recovery public housing in the three prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima. This is about 12% higher than the rate of elderly in the region as a whole, and the number of elderly living alone has reached as high as one-quarter of all households. In the disaster recovery public housing, it is necessary to consider support measures with a long term outlook from the point of view of elderly care.
Many disaster recovery public housing complexes require the establishment of a new “residents’ association.” Having residents’ associations allows the public housing rules to become well-known and notices of events to be promoted to the community, making it more likely for relationships to be built. However, it is necessary to devise strategic ways to promote active participation and concern about local governance amongst residents. In addition, with the aging of the residents, there are concerns about the sustainability of residents’ associations operations.
In the temporary housing up until now, relief workers from outside the region have visited, but with the transfer of residents to the disaster recovery public housing, locations that accept relief workers from outside the city, region or prefecture are being lost. In order to continue cooperating with relief workers in the future, it is important to maintain connections such as by setting up places for interaction or via information exchange.
In the disaster recovery public housing, there are units specifically for elderly and physically disabled tenants where certain considerations have been made. However, services such as economic support and monitoring that were provided in the emergency temporary housing will be reduced. Many of the disaster victims moving into the new housing are faced with a range of problems, including aging. In order to mitigate and resolve the various challenges, it is necessary for public administrations, welfare councils and NPOs to, while building relationships of trust with the residents, support the region with places to share information and verify qualitative evaluation of the support.
After 3 years of tenancy in disaster recovery public housing, the “special circumstances” classification is terminated and households with a monthly income of more than 158,000 yen are expected to make plans to leave. For those who continue to reside in the public housing, because rent levels will increase to that of normal “municipal housing,” it will be a harsh reality for many households whose economic situation makes rebuilding on their own difficult.
In areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami, and particularly those hit by radioactive contamination, it can be said that reconstruction of individual livelihoods and community rebuilding are problems that cannot be considered in isolation. Faced with the plant decommissioning which is said to take more than 40 years, what should people do with their life plans? From the case of the town of Hirono in the Futaba district of Fukushima Prefecture, we consider livelihood reconstruction support for the people who were affected by radioactive contamination. (Responsibility for wording of this article: Ryo Suzuki)
“Study session on Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant” at Ukifune Fureai Square, Minamisoma Odaka-ku (Photo: courtesy of AFW)
“Reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake,” yields various interpretations concerning the scope of the project, ranging between reconstruction after the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami, and reconstruction after the devastation caused by the nuclear disaster. Confronted with the same challenge of livelihood reconstruction, people from regions where the “impact of the nuclear disaster” is apparent face a number of obstacles:1) There exist many areas that are not supported under the existing legal system; 2) The impact of different levels of radiation exposure to the human body remains disputed amongst individuals; 3) As a result, residents are unable to see eye to eye regarding issues and have trouble reaching a common consensus regarding solutions. This complicates the challenge further and brings about situations in which it is difficult for relief workers to be involved. The situation that needs to be addressed still contains a lot of uncertainties after more than 4 years. With the post-disaster nuclear issues, such as decontamination and decommissioning of nuclear plants, stymied at a lack of consensus intertwined with the continued need to address pre-disaster challenges, such as local depopulation, concrete plans has remained elusive for the past more than 4 years. As a result, voices such as “can’t see the future”, “answers cannot be found”, “can’t cooperate” are being heard at this point 4 years and 5 months after the earthquake.
Due to the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the towns and villages of the Hamadori region are divided into three zones –difficulty in returning, limited residence, and in preparation for evacuation lifting – and the lifting plans continue to change with the ever-changing situation. In June this year the cabinet will decide on a policy to have the zoning lifted from all regions by the end of March 2017, and a number of views have been gathered on this. The lifting preparation zone of Naraha attracted attention from the fact that it was released in September 2015, ahead of other regions. For the residents of Naraha, lifting meant that the “post-disaster” reconstruction had finally begun, and many regions saw it as a shift in attention back to the “pre-earthquake” issue of “community development facing an aging and declining population.” Approaches to this challenge in Naraha will be a reference for other regions having evacuation orders lifted in the future. Living in Hamadori is also accompanied with the “co-existence of the decommissioning work which is said to take more than 40 years.” In order for people in the region to share an overall vision for the reconstruction of Hamadori and acknowledge differing values, leaders of the region need to properly understand the current state of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and uphold a positive attitude in confronting the situation.
Starting from Iwaki, many have decided to emigrate to where the public and private services are substantial, and this has become the biggest challenge for people who cannot return even if they want to. While medical care, children’s education and radiation research are the three most necessary aspects, inadequacies in them remain.
For people who live in areas that need to consider “community development” concurrently with the decommissioning process, such as in in Hirono, Naraha, Minamisoma Odaka-ku, it is not easy to create community organizations, reach a consensus and create business proposals.
Without the nuclear power industry, regions aiming to restore an economy sustained by the traditional primary industries are having trouble constructing a vision that factors in the decommissioning process/removal of radioactive contamination. It is necessary to try to envisage even a little of the “difficult to foresee” decommissioning process, and draw a vision of the city that residents hope for. The city is in need of manpower capable of coordinating a fusion of the two processes.
There is still a gap between information that residents can obtain and the images they harbor, and the actual changes in radiation dose. Careful consideration for people’s feelings and provision of accurate information about evacuation lifted zones is required. As external relief workers, things that can be done include training and supporting the development of individuals who are able to gather radiation dose maps information (actual conditions) and handle regional coordination. “Futaba county, future meetings” —a meeting between eight Futaba towns and villages who have committed to gather under the slogan “neighbors even if far away”—started from June 2015, and brings great hope. Support of local key figures and the development of human resources capable of liaising with the surrounding areas is also required.
People who have endeavored to reconstruct their livelihoods from their own assets “self-powered rebuilders” are often perceived as being blessed with financial power because they were able to build a house on their own, but in practice things are not so simple. In some cases, people choose to rebuild on their own due to unavoidable reasons, and face economic difficulties such as double loans, and sometimes psychological problems caused by isolation from the community. (by Kei Nakano Kei & Tsuyoshi Ikeza)
Reconstructed households in Miyako Sakiyama district. More than 100 households have moved to and reconstructed in Sakiyama district, from other areas, such as Taro districts. (Photo: courtesy of Miyako City Social Welfare Council)
Many people who live in the Tohoku disaster area have a strong desire to own their house even if it is economically difficult as they have been familiar with life in their own homes and land inherited from ancestors. Moving into disaster public housing and relocation to a higher ground (anti-disaster mass relocation) requires an indeterminate period of time as it is affected by various factors such as the situation on land development in the region as well as government’s operating structure, consensus-building among residents, and acquisition of materials and labor force. Therefore, there are various situations; some prefer to be in control of their reconstruction efforts while some are pressed by the need to resume business.
This article is a part of JCN Report Vol.4, originally published in Japanese in September 2015. JCN Report has been created by JCN (Japan Civil Network of Disaster Relief in Japan) to spread the understanding the state of Tohoku today to support recovery efforts throughout country.